Iowa Nativism

Now maybe I’m particularly sensitive because I’m not actually from here, but I find these damn “Iowa Native” stickers to be at best confusing, at worst offensive.  (My grandma was born in Keokuk, my dad grew up mainly in Burlington and graduated high school in Clinton, but I myself grew up in Madison, WI.)

From Flickr user {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester}

The original intent of these stickers, as described by the people hawking them was that “It would be a way for Iowans residing in every part of the country or the world to show their pride in their home state.”  And that does seem like a really nice idea–indeed, the above picture was taken in San Francisco, and I certainly would have smiled were I to have seen it there.  In Iowa, however, these stickers take on a whole other meaning (at least as I see it.)

First comes the question, who counts as an Iowa Native?  I’d reckon the Meskwaki would have a whole different take on that question than do the legions of smug white folk who have them plastered on their bumpers.  Second question, is it really that big of an honor to claim native status in a state that has for years suffered from a brain drain as its young and educated leave the state for brighter prospects elsewhere?  I could understand it a little better in a place like California where it seems like everyone is from somewhere else.  (I guess my mom could get one of those stickers–she was born in Palo Alto)

Those earlier questions dealt with issues that were perplexing, but the final question deals with the fact that these bumper stickers at the very least hint at a discomforting level of xenophobia:  What do these stickers mean to the many people who have immigrated here both from other states and from other countries?

In the context of an Iowa City that is constantly up in arms over the “Chicago element,” this sticker seems pretty darn offensive.  In a community like the one in which I teach that is majority Hispanic, this sticker seems pretty darn objectionable.  In a state whose territorial-era laws required blacks to post a $500 surety bond, this sticker seems pretty darn repugnant.  In a state where anti-German hysteria reared its ugly head during WWI, this sticker seems pretty darn distasteful.

Not content to simply carp about this to my friends, I made a mock-up of a counter-message sticker highlighting the inclusiveness that exists in Iowa despite the above examples.  I ordered a set from Cafe Press, and am proud to say that my version is presently displayed on two cars:

If you would like one of these for you car, please leave a comment and I’ll shoot you an email to get your address.  They are free of charge and shipped for free if you agree to put it on your car.


17 Comments on “Iowa Nativism”

  1. Having just moved to Des Moines from Upstate New York in November, I’m glad to report that I’ve gotten more of an “all are welcome” vibe than “us/you” vibe from the folks I’ve met so far . . . and I’m loving Iowa enough to be trying to talk other friends from elsewhere to move here to, so hope your “all are welcome” approach carries the day in the long run!

    An analog of this from where I used to live: a local company started producing those little oval, black-and-white, EU-style country stickers for the various towns and communities in our region, e.g. ALB = Albany, TRY = Troy, SCH = Schenectady, etc. The only ones that caught on and became ubiquitous were the ones that said LVL (= Loudonville) . . . which was the posh/snobby suburb of Albany where the doctor/lawyers/chiefs of the community mostly lived. It became an obviously obnoxious (and later much mocked) display of “You are NOT one of US” . . .

    • DailyDisgust says:

      Welcome to Iowa! Iowa-nice is a real thing. I don’t think the people with these stickers are trying to be exclusionary, but I don’t think they quite get the implications either.

  2. jhonholding says:

    I love showing off my Iowa pride and the welcoming nature of my home state with your sticker! Especially in the face of all the confederate flag bumper stickers/ license plates down here.

  3. really? says:

    Oversensitive much? It’s just a way for people who grew up in Iowa to be proud of where they come from, not in a xenophobic way. Others are certainly welcome to be proud of where they grew up, wherever they’re from. I personally don’t have one on my car now, as I still live in Iowa, but I plan on getting one when I move out of state in a few months. And I think you’re really overblowing the Iowa City “Chicago element” issues.

    • DailyDisgust says:

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

      My main point is that while the stickers are a neat and great idea for Iowans in places other than Iowa, they can bring up some unintended connotations when displayed within the state. I really can’t imagine that anyone is putting on one of these stickers with the intention of ostracizing outsiders–I was merely ruminating about potential adverse interpretations of them.

      And, sadly, I don’t think that I have overblown the extent to which “native” Iowa Citians have decried in the influx of what they often refer to as the “Chicago element.” It is a complaint that I have heard from the barroom to the schoolroom and a whole lot on the Press Citizen’s comment section. I realize that the most boneheaded are the loudest voices and don’t necessarily represent a majority position–but it’s hard to argue that there aren’t a whole heck of a lot of people in Iowa City who would like to send back any low income person who comes to our community from Chicago.

  4. Joshua scott says:

    I want a all is welcome sticker I fell not being a native iowan the native stickers say
    We are better then you outsiders so I want one of yours and will pit it on my van next to my angry bird magnet and will email you a photo

  5. Matt Harrison says:

    Interested in the sticker, if they’re still available.

  6. jenny wolffe says:

    i’m certainly late to the party in this discussion. i was on line trying to find an Iowa transplant sticker or t-shirt for my friend who lives and loves it here. i was born here and while i don’t have a native bumpersticker, do have a t-shirt. i’m one of those who left and came back, was delighted to find and buy the t-shirt when i realized i was “home.” i had never considered the implications you mentioned in your piece and applaud your adoption of a new design. i’m thinking of designing my own to simply say “home.”

    • Dan says:

      I love the “home” idea!

      • Sandy says:

        I love the ‘Home’ idea as well. However I do not think the ‘Iowa Native’ is offensive or meant to be offensive. It’s a matter of pride. Sometimes people just read far too much into the most simple and direct things.

      • Dan says:

        I agree it isn’t meant to be offensive What I wanted to point out is that given the history of nativism in our country in general and our state in particular, it really not a simple and direct thing. Rather it is a phrase that is unintentionally fraught with negative connotation.

  7. Jen says:

    Thank you for writing this! I am, indeed, born and raised in Iowa, but questioned this sticker the first time I saw it. I thought it was making a negative comment on current population shifts. I would slap your sticker on my bumper proudly.

    • Dan says:

      Hi Jen. I will need to order some more stickers–but I will do that now and hopefully get in touch soon to get your address and get one in the mail to you.

  8. Gemma says:

    I am not originally from Iowa and I was never offended by native stickers. In fact I am a lot more offended by how non-Iowans refer to the state and their tendency to mock and underestimate all things Iowa. Besides, I can always buy a proud ‘transplant’ sticker!

  9. Tom says:

    How many people actually have these stickers on their cars? I live in Iowa and have never seen one.

    By the way, the Meskwaki people migrated here from there ancestral home in Canada. There were already Europeans living in Iowa when they arrived.

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